Hans Kung’s Long Goodbye

PUBLISHED ON

April 22, 2010

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Hans Kung is still alive! He periodically sends out messages to remind us of the fact — kind of Bin Laden-ish of him, which speaks to his ecumenical integrity. Last week he published an open letter to the bishops of the world with one message: Undermine my gracious friend and medieval dictator, your pope.

George Weigel has ably answered many of the plain calumnies in the letter, and I’m happy to add to the catalog of Kung’s errors. Kung complains that Protestants “have been denied the status of churches in the proper sense of the term,” making intercommunion impossible. And he decries the move to bring the Society of St. Pius X “back into communion with the church.” Apparently if you are trying to be part of the Catholic Church (like the SSPX), you deserve no quarter; but the pope should shuttle Tradition, doctrine, and dogma for people who don’t think of themselves as Catholics and don’t ever want to.

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Kung desires that “the spirit of the Second Vatican Council” become the compass for the Church and charges Pope Benedict XVI with violating “the spirit of the Council Fathers.” These are spirits that Kung has no trouble divining, and they increasingly resemble a private revelation that I dearly wish the Holy Office would examine more fully.

Kung says, “He [Benedict XVI] promotes the medieval Tridentine Mass by all possible means.” Except by publicly celebrating it. And exactly what Mass did the Council Fathers celebrate? Oh! That old thing.

The New York Times has gone after Benedict for being too concerned with doctrine and not enough with governance. But this is much more true of Kung than Benedict, who declares the lack of Vatican II spirit as “the most serious of all” defects in the current Church.

But apart from the errors, obfuscations, and lies, Kung’s letter is notable for its utter lameness, and sadness. There are people who tell me that I just “don’t get it,” and “it” is the 1960s. They play the records and try to tell me how it felt to listen to them. Hans Kung is a lot like this. Vatican II is his Woodstock. Oh Ratz, you were one of us. Now you’ve become “the Man,” man.

Kung’s protesting missive is befuddling; it’s as if someone decided to defiantly burn a bra today. The gesture is so antique, it borders on the endearing. His treasured ideas about the liturgy, recognizing Anglican orders, and changing the Church’s teaching on birth control are as outdated and naive as free love. “It was the spirit, man — a liberation. And we need more of that today.” No, we really don’t, one thinks, before politely asking, “Want me to mash your meds in some hummus?”


So long as boomers make decisions in the media,
we’ll be stuck with documentaries extolling the 1960s counterculture. Similarly, we will stop hearing about “the spirit of Vatican II” (and probably most of the texts) once those boomer priests are falling into their graves, as they are starting to do.

And that is why Kung believes the Church is dying or in its worst crisis. His “Church” really is as gray-haired and grumpy as the one he imagined euthanizing at the Council. Go to the most liberal parish in your area; along with the Marty Haugen and guitars, you’ll find expanding guts, ladies with short-cut gray hair. At a traditional-leaning parish, like my own St. Mary’s in Norwalk, Connecticut, you’ll find young families, lots of kids, women with long hair sometimes tucked under mantillas.

Here’s some real talk: The generation of priests and bishops who made it their mission to “implement the Council” — the ones who expected ongoing revisions to liturgy, faith, and morals in the Church — are graying fast. Already the Church’s soixante-huitards are being replaced by a clergy that came into the Church because they were inspired by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. And as Benedict allows for the emergence of the traditional Mass and begins the painful process of reforming the reformed liturgy, traditionalists like myself will begin to recover from their battered-child pathologies.

Kung’s vision of the reformed Church deserves to die, but I find it hard to be angry about his protests. He is a revolutionary whose ideas enthralled his world for a time before slipping away. He never succeeded in changing the Church forever. And despite his pretensions to persecution, he never got the satisfaction of the heretic who nobly troops to the pyre, either. Between now and his obituary, he has only the op-ed pages.


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